Caffeine Pollution Found in Oregon Coast Waters

Cup of coffee
Some people drink their coffee; others use it in a coffee enema.

Seawater off the coast of Oregon is polluted with caffeine; however, little caffeine turned up near large population centers and other places where researchers expected to find it.

Instead, they found elevated levels of the familiar, morning-enhancing chemical near Carl Washburne State Park and Cape Lookout, two areas not near potential sources. Relatively high levels of caffeine also showed up in many samples taken from the northern coast following a heavy, late-spring storm.

This pattern suggests that while wastewater treatment plants appear to be effective at removing caffeine, heavy rainfall can wash it, along with sewage overflow, out into the ocean, the researchers write in the July issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Septic tanks like those used at state parks may be less effective at containing contaminants, researcher Elise Granek, assistant professor of Environmental Science and Management at Portland State University, said in a statement.

In spring 2010, graduate student Zoe Rodriguez del Rey and Granek sampled water from 14 coastal sites and seven other water bodies as far north as Astoria, Ore., and as far south as Brookings.

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea and chocolate, as well as in some medications, and some of it is excreted after consumption of such products. Because no caffeine-producing plants are indigenous to the northwestern United States, its presence is a sign of human pollution.

Elsewhere, researchers have looked to caffeine levels as a sign of sewer leaks and overflows.

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Wynne Parry
Wynne was a reporter at The Stamford Advocate. She has interned at Discover magazine and has freelanced for The New York Times and Scientific American's web site. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Utah.